Wednesday, 28 December 2011

A lovely Family Christmas

We spent the Christmas break at my parents in Surrey. My Dad 'God bless him' had brought up half of the shops already by the time we had arrived and we still managed another two trips before the big day. By the time we collected the 17 lb (8 kilo) turkey on Christmas Eve I had already baked mince pies, sausages rolls, made trifle, and meringues. The vegetables, pigs in blankets and the homemade stuffing were all prepared and then I rescued a Christmas pudding which I had made last year. When I say rescued it was so hard that I doubted that it would be edible but, having steamed it for 3 hours and added rather large amounts of alcohol , it was delicious.
Christmas day was hectic, cooking for 10 but it was a lovely day. On Boxing Day my nephew and his wife came with their two adorable children so we were 14 for a while! It’s so lovely seeing little ones at Christmas time – they were so excited about their visit from Father Christmas. I love Christmas but enjoy it so much more when there are young children around.
Due to the strike by the tube drivers on Boxing Day we decided to drive our daughter back to her flat in north east London. It ended up being a four hour round trip to do 80 miles. What happened to our country that all the shops are open and it is as busy as a normal day on a Christmas bank holiday? Sometimes in my wild moments I long to be French, they still have proper Sundays and Bank Holidays where everything is shut. Coupled with no trains it seemed that everyone was on the roads? But alas I was wrong because on Tuesday when we drove back home to North Wales we had a very long 8 hour drive. I have never seen so much traffic north of Oxford. It’s always busy in the South but normally as soon as we hit the A40 it improves. In my very tired stupor I realised that I had been driving for 12 hours out of 24! It’s so lovely to be back in sleepy Carmel where the traffic flows gently; my days of enjoying the hustle and bustle of the busy metropolis I think are well and truly over.
Now it’s time to start thinking about our 1970’s New Year‘s celebrations – Hippies, Glam Rock, Will there be Cheese and Pineapple on sticks, Prawn Cocktail, Chicken Marengo and Arctic Roll! All washed down with a nice glass of Riesling! Or should it be a Vesta Curry. Still the music will be good. Happy New Year Everyone!

Friday, 16 December 2011

It's beginning to look a bit like Christmas

We had planned a nice day trip to Manchester to the Christmas Markets to do some last minute shopping. We woke up to a dusting of snow but by 9.30am it was snowing quite hard. We walked to the coach stop at the Half Way House ( we were going with Voel Coaches) and stood for more than half an hour with 3 other ladies waiting for the coach. By the time the coach arrived we all looked by snowmen. It took us an hour to get to the A55 (2 miles) and were finally on our way at 11am. We had a lovely time in Manchester and got back safe and sound thanks to our driver Stuart. Luckily the roads are now clear but it is definitely starting to look a bit like Christmas. Getting excited now.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Christmas is always on 25th December !

Christmas comes every year at the same time. Why is it then that the end of November is upon us again and I am starting to panic? How did the year creep up on me so quickly again. I am normally such an organised person (well I think I am) but how did we get here so soon. There is no way that I will start any present shopping in October, and November always seems a little too early but then December arrives and suddenly its only 3 weeks to the big day. I did order some Christmas cards with Celyn Villa on but they turned up as post cards instead. Having rung the supplier and ‘told him off in the most polite way I could’ I did receive a full credit so if you receive a very nice Christmas post card from us you will know why.

Of course our business is running a B&B and we continued to be busy. On top of that we have carried out quite a few improvements, the new shower, carpets, beds etc. We also had a visit from a professional 'Blogger' and her family who visited the area for the first time, she wrote some nice things about us in her blog which we were thrilled about. So all that running around has used up any spare Christmas preparation time I might have had before now.

I have just come back from a few days at my parents, so lovely to see them both and of course helping my dad look after my mum who had a stroke last year. But dad got a dreadful chest infection whilst I was there and he took to his bed – so I was looking after both of them! I did get to baby sit my new niece though. Her mum and dad’s first evening out since she was born. She was so good apart from the two dirty nappies (saved up just for me) but it was a joy to feed her and spoil her just for a bit. The next time I see her will be Christmas and she will be 4 and half months by then. Where does the time go….

One of our regular guests who comes over from Spain to visit her 92 year old Mum asked me if I would do them a lunch, so yesterday I cooked at midday instead of in the evening. Six of their family came for an early Christmas get together, they had a great time and I started feeling quite festive. Hence the panic I think. Most years by now I would have made Christmas chutney, pudding and cake not forgetting the sloe gin and the freezer full of homemade goodies.
But this year I HAVE DONE NOTHING. Thursday is 1st of December I will definitely start then!!!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Remembrance Day

November is here cold, wet and foggy. That’s today. But what a fantastic month October was. I haven’t blogged for a while (well ages actually) due to a very busy couple of months. We have been making improvements in the house. New carpets, showers, beds to name but a few things.

It’s now Sunday afternoon and I have spent most of the day on the computer – catching up. So thought I should blog whilst I am here. I watched the Remembrance Sunday service on the TV today and whilst London was bathed in sunshine, it was overcast and dull here in Carmel. However the weather really fitted my mood today and I always get upset when I watch all the old soldiers march past the cenotaph. But the saddest thing is that it is not just the old soldiers now that we should be grateful to. Being born not long after the second world war I was brought up to respect all of those who fought during the world wars but how sad is it that even today we are still losing brave service men and women to conflicts that it seems will never be solved.

I have often blogged about technology being incredible and the things we can do today are fantastic. Is it better that we can keep in touch so easily or not? How many people who are away would love to receive a letter instead of a quick text? The fact that we can tell the world everything that we are doing instantly via Facebook and Twitter is amazing but does it really give us the time to stop and smell the roses. When I think about those old soldiers and their loved ones who only received letters very rarely is seems so sad, yet I am sure that those letters were full of news and love and were read and re-read many times. A tweet or a text seems to be here one minute and gone the next but unlike that letter they are in fact here forever.
A pile of old letters tied up with ribbon seems a much more romantic notion than a text. Maybe that’s why we have all started blogging – it fulfils that part of us that misses writing letters.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

New baby, Liverpool and my latest TV appearance!!!

Another busy month with lots of activity in the B&B but I finally managed to get to meet my new niece, the lovely and beautiful Emilie Elizabeth. What a joy this little bundle of cuteness has brought to her proud Mum and Dad and the rest of the family.

We also managed to have a night away in Liverpool as although we have visited many many times we wanted to spend some time at the museums which we had previously missed. We did both the Maritime and The Slave Museums, both very different but both very interesting. With the local connection here in Holywell with the triangle trade it was fascinating and fairly harrowing to get a taste of what those dreadful days were like for many. Afterwards we needed a bit of light heartedness and took a ride on the big wheel; we then had an ice-cream and felt like real tourists. Liverpool is certainly worth a visit these days.

But the real fun was on Wednesday night, because at 7.30pm on BBC1 Les and I were on TV! Erddig the wonderful National Trust House near Wrexham were I volunteer was the subject of the TV programme National Treasurers Live. Volunteers were asked to go along and make up the audience and in the opening scene you can just see me in the distance in my Servants outfit on the left hand side of the screen. But our 3 seconds of fame came when we were moved from the crowd in the kitchen, to the hall under the bells and Dan Snow the presenter stopped in front of us to ring them. So that now being my third appearance on TV, it will probably be my last. Third I hear you ask (or not) but for those who don’t know about my TV career let me tell you now.
My first appearance was back in the early 70’s when Nationwide (like the One Show I think) came and filmed us at 7.30am on our commuter London bound train at Christmas. We always had a party, Mince pies and sherry for all. I think then I had about 10 seconds of fame. Thirdly my appearance in 2009 on Britain’s Best Dish which was my star appearance if only for breaking a glass when trying to Brulee the top of my dessert.
Still all was not all lost and I went on to win the heat. But although fame is not really my thing I did learn how much time and effort goes into making a half an hour TV programme, no wonder it costs so much money.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Harvesting the crop

Suddenly things need to be picked, bottled, frozen and potted again. Earlier in the summer the soft fruit (raspberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants) were either frozen or made into jam. But yesterday we harvested 20lbs of plums. We try to serve homemade jams and marmalade to our guests every morning for breakfast. And as I recently opened my last pot of 2010’s produce it was timely that today I have been making plum jam. It’s amazing to think that my one days jam making has produced enough to last another year. Nature’s bounty at its best.
The apples are nearly ready too although they have a much longer ‘tree life’ and we can go on picking them into October. We also have lots of pears and although they are lovely to eat I always feel they are less versatile for preserving. I have pickled them and bottled them in the past and also turn them into lovely deserts. But luckily I have found a Harmony Jam recipe which contains pears and apples so I will be trying that soon.
I remember as a child seeing lots of jars lined up in the larder, sadly I don’t have a larder mine have to go into the garage and a cupboard. When they are lined up waiting to be opened and spooned on fresh homemade bread it gives me a really satisfying feeling. That even though we live in a high tech, fast moving world jam making has stayed the same for generations and it makes me feel grounded and homely. Although to be fair I must confess to listening to my IPOD whilst I chopped, weighed, boiled and bottled!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

August and welcome to a new neice

Running a B&B as I have said before is an unusual way of life. Our days go from being extremely busy with no time to stop and look at the view, to more peaceful days when we have no guests at all. In addition we are involved in other things like the Flintshire Tourism Association, Holywell and District Twinning Association, our family and friends, our hobbies of painting for me and wood turning for Les. Oh and then there's the garden too. We did have a day off on Tuesday and met up with my nephew and his family and we all went on the Ffestiniog Railway, which was great fun.
Of course we are now in the middle of the busy Summer Season and most days are rush, rush, rush. It makes blogging difficult. I realise I havent written a word since June but I have found a few minutes today to write a line or two. (I should be ironing instead).
I'm not a big fan of August. The other problem of course is that everyone else is on holiday and we are not! And now that we are in August it makes me realise just how fast the year is going again. I always feel that the first half of the year upto July is somehow a slow climb, and of course the expression 'all down hill from here' seems to apply to August onwards. I wonder if it is the fact that we are heading again faster than we like to another winter and yet another Christmas (sorry to mention that word so early on but in four weeks or so the shops will start filling up with gifts and decorations for that 1 day a year that most people go mad for).
However on Monday 8th August little Emilie Elizabeth weighing 6lb 11oz was born to my brother and his wife and August dosn't seem so bad at all. It was Les's birthday yesterday so it's been a week of celebrating. A new baby girl to buy presents for and to spoil, what could be better!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

On Reflection !

Reflection is a wonderful thing. (Not the sort it the mirror, I try to avoid that these days!) But reflecting on this past week has been interesting. A busy B&B time is always challenging but when you add in a bit of extra plate spinning and that stack of cards, so carefully placed, start to fall - you think you must be mad.
One of the taps in a guest en-suite decided to seized up and we called the plumber, after he left the washing machine decided to play up, then we called the Engineer who luckily mended it. (£££ later of course). My hand blender broke in the middle of blending soup. I burnt my third batch of Welsh cakes and Les dropped the home made biscuits - all this on one very busy day. Then a friend popped in the told us of a bereavement and our very silly little problems that were stressing us out were put in to perspective.

Last night we went up the River Dee in Chester, a friend had hired a boat for her birthday party. It was a warm and sunny evening with a little breeze, good food, good friends and a few glasses of wine. Les and I even had a dance. It was a lovely evening.

This morning after breakfast one our our guests said "'that was the nicest breakfast I have ever had, anywhere' then went on to say how nice their room was and that they would definitely come back again for a longer stay next time. Compliments like that make it all worth while.

So on reflection a very good week. Bring on the plate spinning I say.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Sunshine, Vintage cars and a beach hut

In our effort to visit all corners of the British Isles we went off to Lincolnshire for a week in the caravan. It was the first time we had visited the county and found it a delightful and enchanting place. The Lincolnshire Wolds seem to be the only area that isn’t flat and as we meandered up and down gently rolling hills we were struck by the beauty of the farm land and little villages.
We stopped in a small place on the coast called Sandylands, next to Suton on Sea and a 15 minute walk took us to exactly that, a wide and long sandy beach stretching for miles edged with the faded grandeur of authentic circa. 1930’s beach huts. In fact we hired one whilst we were there and it was so much fun.

I had been told that visiting this area was like stepping back 30 or so years and it was a real breath of fresh air to find just tranquillity and peace in a sea side town. However despite its remoteness and lack of apparent sophistication we found as good a delicatessen that I have tried anywhere, serving wonderful homemade goodies, a fantastic fish and chip shop and a great pub serving excellent food. Coupled with lovely friendly people it really was a special place to visit.
There was a Vintage Car Show on Sunday in Louth so we decided to go. It was great real old fashioned family fun with lots of old cars beautifully restored by their dedicated owners.

We ventured as far as Lincoln another day and had a look at the lovely cathedral and castle. A really beautiful city with interesting architecture both old and new.

Apart from that we really didn’t do much apart from walk the dogs, read, relax, drink some wine and enjoy the peace and quiet.

Well that was last week - back home now with no more plans to get away again until after the summer so B&B Hat on again – cakes to bake, beds to make …………………………

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Not a bad life really

As we head into yet another Bank Holiday weekend and towards the end of May – it has been a great month for us, when we have enjoyed both work and play. Despite running a busy B&B Les and I do get the work/life balance right sometimes, and May has proved to be a good example for us. Although as we go forward into the summer months we know there will be more work than play! But that’s the beauty of our lifestyle choice and we so enjoy meeting all the new people who come and stay with us from around the world. Our visit to Bodnant Gardens last Sunday was spectacular and we always feel so privileged living so close to such a great place. Gardening has featured heavily this month with still so much to do but we did manage a trip to Chester for some shopping and dinner too.

We recently got back from a long weekend in St Grégoire in Brittany. We went with the Holywell and District Twinning Association and a group of about 35 went by coach from Holywell catching the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo. It’s a wonderful weekend and starts off well on board ship with a fabulous meal and a good night’s sleep. Arriving in St Malo refreshed on Friday morning we drove to St Grégoire a small town just outside Rennes. There is much kissing and Bon Jouring when we arrive and we quickly head off with our host families to renew friendships and in some cases make new ones.

We had the first of our three hour lunches in the garden of our hosts house and starting practicing our bad French as they in turn practised their English. It’s amazing with just a little effort and a good dictionary the range of topics we covered over the weekend. Off to another hosts house for another meal in the evening with 24 of us sitting in their lovely garden - the Champagne flowed, the bar-b-que was lite and we all had a great time.

Saturday we had a trip to Fougéres, a very pretty town with a magnificent Castle which we toured in the afternoon. We spent a lovely time here and had a great lunch in a local hotel. Sunday we spent with the family and they took us to a Fois Gras farm in the middle of nowhere. Which was a bit strange as we had a tour of the factory and even met the poor old ducks who were being fed corn and whose livers would eventually be the Fois Gras. We then had lunch with 130 French people in a huge barn – obviously we started with Foir Gras and then had Duck Breast as the main course! They sold everything in their shop; from every part of the Duck, the wine they served with lunch and the cheese. Only the French could turn such an operation into a commercial enterprise. It was enough to turn many people vegetarian I am sure.

Sunday evening we had a farewell get together with all the hosts and guests and enjoyed another buffet, more wine and some really good Folk music, and plenty of dancing. We always sing a few Welsh songs and the Breton national anthem is sung to the same tune as the Welsh National Anthem so we always sing it together at the end of the evening.

We left on Monday morning with more kissing and a few tears with promises of seeing every one again next year in Holywell. It will be the 10th anniversary year and we will need to put on a good weekend for our Gregorian friends.

Because our ferry wasn’t booked until the evening we travelled to Bayeux and had a look around the British Cemetery and all felt emotional reading some of the 2nd world war grave stones – so many young people died so we could be free. A really emotional visit for everyone. We had lunch (did we really need more food?) and then a trip around the Tapestry – an incredible thing of beauty and colour still after all this time. We then drove up to Arromanches and had a look at the Mulberry Harbour and went around the museum. It was a lovely day and after a picnic we drove along the coast to Caen for our overnight ferry back to Portsmouth.

Twinning is a great experience and having been part of the Holywell one from the beginning we have made so many friends both in France and locally through the Association.

In fact tonight we are hosting a party for everyone who came on the trip with us so I really should stop typing and start preparing for the Soirée.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

May already - but what a week!

Easter was a busy weekend - lovely guests, lots of cooking and lovely weather and the countryside looking beautiful with all the spring flowers. Then just as the beds had been changed and the sheets ironed along comes another Bank Holiday weekend. Les and I did manage a day off in between (although sitting down watching the Royal Wedding all day must count as nearly a day off).
Back in February we had enjoyed watching a Channel 4 programme where a group of modern day craftsmen built a Roman Villa using traditional methods. Based at Wroxeter (Britain’s 4th largest Roman City) we decided to have a day out to see the finished building. It was a cooler day than we had enjoyed lately but it didn’t spoil our fun. Although a little worried when we paid our admission charge - we were advised not to touch the paint work as it hadn’t settled yet - we set off to inspect the building. Bearing in mind that everything was made from scratch using 2000 years old building methods it was an impressive sight and helped paint a picture (no pun indented) of how the whole city would have looked centuries ago. It was well worth the trip and although a cold day the hot chocolate provided much needed warmth after walking around the site. Dogs are allowed and although we took our two with us they stayed in the car as it was a cool day. The lady who sat next to us with her little white and red dog wished she had left hers in the car too. Yes I did say white and red - the dog didn’t heed the warning of the ticket seller and obviously did touch the walls!

Friday came, the sun came out again, we put out the flags and the bunting and sat down and watched the Royal Wedding from the start. We ooowed at the beautiful dress and arrrd when the vows were spoken. We smiled at the crowd and laughed at some of the silliest hats I have ever seen. The crowds were amazing and it was truly a great day, and when it counts we really put on a good show, no wonder people love coming to the UK.

Straight into another Bank Holiday Weekend with more guests, cooking etc. ….

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Sunshine, daffodils and lambs

Despite ongoing dramas that we all have from time to time in our lives I have been trying to focus on the positive side of life this week.

Spring came for a couple of days. Hot sunny weather with blue skies it was enough to make me smile and realise that the winter doesn't really last all year - it just seems like it.

I have had my first session at Erddig this week, showing children what it was like to be a Victorian Servant. (see previous blog about this). On route to Wrexham I passed fields full of tiny lambs and gardens and hedgerows full of daffodils.

I drove to Conwy and walked to the harbour where I sat amongst couples eating fish and chips whilst I ate my apple and banana - not easy. Got stuck in traffic on the way there due to road works on the A55 but came back the scenic route and it was lovely.

I have been busy on the computer inputting information for a new website for tourism in Flintshire.

I welcomed lovely guests to the B and B and fed them both breakfast and evening meal.

I got the washing dry on the washing line.

I went to the local pub that has reopened after being closed for over a year - saw lots of people from the village - lets hope the new landlords can make a go of it. Good food is the answer.

I had my hair done.

I find I am smiling - its been a good week.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

White Water Rafting

Last year when Les was 60, our daughter gave him 'an extreme experience' gift. Having looked through all the wonderful things you can do - bungee jumping to skydiving; sensible Les decided that he would like to try White Water Rafting. Many years ago in his back packing days it was something Les wanted to do when he visited New Zealand. Being on a tight budget then it was impossible, so it was an ambition that has taken many years to achieve. Luckily here in North Wales we have a several of places you can do this and Llangollen being less than an hour away seemed the ideal location.
After being kited out in wet suites, helmets and buoyancy aids they had a full training session before carrying the raft to the waters edge. They were with another couple and two guides who quickly made sure that they were all 'dumped in the water'. After more training and practice they were off down the rapids in high spirits with the adrenalin pumping.

Our daughter came home for a few days so that she could join in the 'experience' but I chose to watch from the bank, taking pictures and once they were out of sight retired to the cafe for a couple of hours relaxation.

The verdict afterwards: fantastic, really enjoyable and they would definately do it again. Maybe I wont be such a coward next time and join them, but then again!!!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

It's my silver moving to Wales Anniversary

25 years ago today, St David's Day Les and I moved to Wales. It's incredible to think where the time has gone and what has happened in the meantime. We had only been married for just over a year when Les had the chance to move with his job. His father was Welsh and as a child Les spent many happy holidays in North Wales visiting his grandparents and family. So when the opportunity arose he jumped at the chance and I jumped with him.

Moving day was a bit of a nightmare – we woke up to a couple of inches of snow and had to quickly change our plans of driving both our cars (I had a 2CV at the time which wasn’t equipped for bad weather) so I went with the removal lorry and Les drove his car with our 2 cats and our 10 week old Springer spaniel puppy. He definitely drew the short straw as the cats were out of the basket before he had driven 5 miles and our puppy turned out to be a bad passenger, something that continued for all his life. He hated the car and it’s probably due to that journey.

Luckily today has been absolutely lovely, with bright sunshine and blues skies – Les and I are celebrating with Welsh Lamb and a bottle of bubbles. Here’s to the next 25!

Sunday, 27 February 2011

I can't always blog..

Sometimes not blogging isn’t necessarily a sign of not having anything to say or me being too busy, sometimes it’s because I just don’t feel like writing. Life for all of us can be hard at times: take a look at the world today, worrying events in North Africa and the Middle East, the awful earthquake in New Zealand as well as many ongoing problems that the world faces. At home we are all concerned with the economy and what the knock on effect will be for each of us. At times in our own lives we have a ‘annus horribilis’ (to quote our much loved Queen).

BUT I am an optimistic person and try to always look on the bright side, see the best in everyone and work on the probably misguided assumption that things will work out. Sometimes it’s the small things in life that are worth focusing on. When I’m down I usually turn to baking to cheer me up (its comfort cooking), or I get my paints out and try to create something. The sun is shining, the crocuses are out and the lambs are starting to appear in the fields. Spring is nearly here and although not as busy as usual with guests – they are still coming to stay and visit this lovely part of Wales. OK so where is my paint brush……………

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Wind, Rain and Cooking

When the weather is horrible as it has been for the last few days, windy, wet and frankly miserable - I like nothing more than cooking in my cosy kitchen. It's been a busy week food wise: on Wednesday it was party time at Erddig when all the Education Volunteers got together for our Christmas lunch (now a New Year tradition usually due to the bad weather in December). We all take a plate of food and enjoy a good catch up and gossip. I made Cheese scones which seemed to go down well. It is always interesting to see the range of goodies people bring: and they are all enthusiastically enjoyed. Someone made some lovely carrot cake, must find out who and get the recipe.

Thursday we had 8 friends round to celebrate Chinese New Year and I spent the whole day cooking up a feast. For one of the courses (there were 4) I cooked a whole crispy duck for the obligatory Duck with Pancakes. I wasn't sure how to cook the duck, so I cooked it in the slow cooker all day, then roasted it in the oven for another hour - and it worked really well. The bones have subsequently been in the slow cooker making stock which I shall turn into Garlic Soup later, and the duck fat is in a jar ready to use for my roast potatoes.

One of our frequent guests who comes over from Spain brought me some Seville Oranges recently and I have been busy making Marmalade today. Seville Oranges give a unique flavour that is slightly bitter and they always set really well. Although time consuming and fiddly I love the taste of homemade. I have added to the cupboard where all my homemade jam's, marmalade's and chutney's are kept. There is something very satisfying about seeing them all lined up waiting to be enjoyed by family, friends and guests.
I have put my recipe for Cheese Scones under the Recipe Page.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

January - I feel sorry for you

To summon up any enthusiasm for January is always difficult. Being the second month of winter and normally the coldest it really doesn't have a lot going for it. Christmas and New Year festivities are quickly forgotten and fade when the bank balance has been reduced and the waistband expanded. The B&B is usually quiet and there are always jobs to catch up on.

To start yet another gym membership and another diet must be the two worst things to do when you feel more like sitting by the fire and eating hot wholesome food. I did start the month with the best of intentions but due to a whole number of really legitimate reasons I haven't done either.

But here we are nearly at the end of the month and February looms - a much better month all round. The bulbs are starting to pop through the cold earth, the days are already getting longer and the promise of Spring is starting to be believed.

Sorry January but I won't miss you this year - I think next year it might be a good idea to go to Australia - after all its their second month of Summer!